December 28, 2007

IBD: Where There's A Will, There's An EO

Investors Business Daily comes to praise George Bush's will -- and demand its use on the earmarks in the omnibus appropriation he signed this week. IBD argues for Bush to issue an executive order defunding the 90% of the 9,000+ earmarks that got airdropped into committee reports:

President Bush has proved his courage on Iraq, on SCHIP, and on refusing to accept a tax hike to fix the AMT. His is the sort of will that could squash pork-barrel earmarks — in the name of the Constitution. ...

The Congressional Research Service issued a report last week confirming that earmarks not included in the actual bill but written into accompanying reports — which is most of them — do not have force of law and can therefore be disregarded by the president. ...

If the president decided to get tough and issue an executive order instructing all agencies not to be guided by earmarks not actually included in the appropriations legislation, he would have on his side the Presentment Clause in Article 1 of the Constitution, which describes how a bill becomes law.

The editors point out that Bush has an opportunity for bipartisanship in this case; he can make Republicans and Democrats in Congress equally unhappy. Robert Byrd (D-WV) managed to generate his usual level of pork in the omnibus bill, committing $430 million to local projects in his state, including a $2.4 million grant for a retractable roof at a park. Ted Stevens (R-AK) got over $500 million, however, and Thad Cochran (R-MS) earmarked $774 million.

An EO could have long-lasting consequences. "Airdropped" earmarks appear in conference reports so that individual members do not have to take the political risk of voting for them, nor do they have to take responsibility for those they propose. Congress promised to quit airdropping earmarks into bills at the beginning of the 110th Session, but broke that promise. Properly worded, an EO would do what Congress promised by never allowing any conference-report earmark to get spent -- until a countervailing EO gets issued. That could conceivably never happen, as Presidents will not be eager to be seen as enablers for pork.

George Bush has little to lose in issuing an EO. He will not likely get a lot of cooperation from Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid in any case in 2008, so he has no reason to let them off the hook. The Republican Party needs a dramatic step to rebuild its case for fiscal discipline in the next election. There is almost no downside to this step at all.

When can he do it? Technically, he can issue that EO at any time during the year, and any earmarks not yet fulfilled will get eliminated. The most dramatic time to issue the EO will either be on the eve of the Iowa caucuses, or at the State of the Union address in late January. I suspect Bush will choose the latter if he decides to issue the EO. Will Congress applaud that as they applauded when talking about earmark reform in the last SOTU speech? Somehow, I rather doubt it.


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